Vice Squad
Monday, June 14, 2004
Smoking in the Movies

Some government officials don't like it when they see an actor in a movie light a Camel cigarette. They can point to the 1998 Master Tobacco Settlement with state attorneys general to ensure that the major tobacco companies are not paying the movie producers for the plug. But what if the movie producers act on their own accord? Well, now those producers can expect to hear from cigarette manufacturers asking that the product reference be removed, and backing up the request with a vague litigation threat. This pressure also is a result of the 1998 settlement:
The push comes as state authorities in California have begun to inform tobacco companies that they are obliged to police the use of their brands in films. State attorneys-general claim their 1998 lawsuit settlement with tobacco companies requires cigarette manufacturers to take any "commercially reasonable" steps to prevent the unauthorized use of their brand names in films. The intent was to prevent the manufacturers from skirting restrictions on cigarette ads.

"It isn't enough for a tobacco company to say, 'We had nothing to do with our brand of cigarettes being in that movie,' " says Michelle Fogliani, deputy attorney general for California, which has support from state authorities in Maryland and elsewhere.
So far, it looks as if the movie producers haven't succumbed to the pressure, but who knows how movies have been altered pre-release to ensure conformity with smoking diktats?

Meanwhile, the possibility of tagging R-ratings on US movies because of smoking continues to be discussed. (One commentator in the linked article notes the irony in that smoking was sometimes used in steamy ways in old movies precisely because more overt sexual behavior was verboten.) Britain, too, is considering rating movies according to their drinking and smoking content.

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